The summer movie season is upon us and, for the most part, that means one thing when going to the cinema is concerned – check your brain at the door, grab a big bucket of popcorn and prepare to be wowed. For the past 30 years, the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day has become the time when Hollywood’s ledgers go from red to black as they release the movies that have the highest potential audience appeal, sporting simplistic stories festooned with so many special effects and pieces of eye candy that viewers run the risk of contracting diabetes watching them. To be sure, there are exceptions to this rule. Some of these high-concept pictures are driven by timely subtexts (The Dark Knight) while some studios employ smart counter-programming and release some adult fare (The Devil Wears Prada) amid the teen fodder.
There’s a great deal of artistic potential on tap but, make no mistake, the studios want to make hay while the sun is shining and this summer has the potential to be a record-setter at the box office. Much anticipated sequels and superhero films will be battling for the filmgoer’s dollars. What follows is a comprehensive rundown of the movies set for release over the next 14 weeks, a roster that has this critic feeling more optimistic about the summer months than I have been in years. That being said, as always, “caveat emptor” is the best advice I can give anyone going to the movies this summer.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
(July 15) – After 10 years and billions made at the box office, the saga of “the boy who lived” finally comes to a conclusion as the young wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) battles his archenemy Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) over a collection of talismans that would give their possessor supreme power over the worlds of both muggles and wizards alike. Expect to be dazzled and moved as this epic tale reaches its climax.
(Aug. 19) – Colin Farrell stars in this remake of the 1980s horror hit as the vampire who moves in next door to a curious teen (Anton Yelchin) who discovers his identity and enlists the aid of a local television host to drive a stake through his heart. With Farrell on board, this raises the bar for this late summer entry.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
(Aug. 5) – James Franco stars as a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease by experimenting on the brains of chimpanzees. Things go horribly awry when one of his subjects becomes extraordinarily intelligent. Hopefully, this reboot of the Planet of the Apes series will be better than Tim Burton’s misguided 2001 remake.
Our Idiot Brother
(Aug. 26) – Paul Rudd takes on the title role as an unemployed but likeable couch potato who finds himself without a home when his girlfriend leaves him. Lacking any sort of ambition, he takes to spending time with his three sisters (Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel) and making their lives a living hell.
The Hangover, Part II
(May 27) – Director Todd Phillips insisted that his sequel to the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time have “Part II” in its title like The Godfather, Part II. He thinks it’s on par with that classic, as followups go. Obviously, a bit of hyperbole is at play here and one has to wonder if he and the Wolf pack – Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis – can catch comedic lightning in a bottle once more. This time out, the boys who can’t hold their liquor head to Bangkok for yet another bachelor party and are left to pick up the pieces the day after.
Friends with Benefits
(July 22) – Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis star as two friends who decide to introduce sex into their relationship without any expectation of any emotional commitment. As one would suspect, complications ensue. With its premise nearly identical to this year’s No Strings Attached, this feature will have to find a way to distinguish itself from that underperforming film.
Kung Fu Panda 2
(May 27) – The second sequel of the Memorial Day weekend finds everyone’s favorite chop-socky panda, Po (voice by Jack Black) and the Furious Five battling a new foe (Gary Oldman) who threatens to wipe out Kung Fu itself. With a script by the originators of the series, Jonathan Aibel and Glen Berger, the return of the original cast of voice actors – Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogan and Dustin Hoffman – and the addition of a character voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme, this promises to be as entertaining and thoughtful as the original.
(Aug. 26) – Film footage that’s decades old reveals that there was a mission to the moon that’s been kept from the American public. As we watch these newly found scenes unfold, we see just why missions to the moon have been abandoned.
Captain America: The First Avenger
(July 22) – The summer’s second superhero feature recounts the origin of the Marvel Universe’s personification of the American ideal. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) longs to serve his country during World War II, but being declared 4-F, he has few options. However, he agrees to participate in a Top Secret program that promises to turn him into a new breed of super soldier. This is the final piece in Marvel’s grand plan to bring their superhero team, The Avengers, to the big screen. If previous entries (Iron Man, Thor) are any indication, this should be a winner.
(June 24) – Pixar Studios’ sequel to one of its most lucrative projects follows Lightning McQueen’s efforts to win an international race with his tow truck buddy, Mater, along for the ride. However, not only must they deal with autos from various countries, but a case of espionage as well. With the voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy and Michael Caine, among many others.
(June 24) – Cameron Diaz gets down and dirty as a vulgar teacher who’s out to nab a new co-worker (Justin Timberlake) after being dumped by her sugar daddy, as well as get her students to ace an upcoming standardized test so that she can get a bonus. She has no problems bribing her kids or getting her sexy on to turn her potential beau’s head. But she doesn’t count on competition from another teacher (Lucy Punch) with similar designs. Proudly touting its R rating, this one is not for those easily offended.
30 Minutes or Less
(Aug. 12) – Jesse Eisenberg stars as a pizza delivery guy who’s kidnapped, has dynamite strapped to his chest and is forced to rob a bank in less than a half hour. Believe it or not, this is a comedy, albeit of the darker variety.
X-Men: First Class
(June 3) – This prequel to the profitable mutant movies examines the beginning of the team as allies Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) gather other individuals with unique powers to form a group intent on gaining acceptance by helping the society that’s shunned them. Their first task is to help quell the Cuban Missile Crisis. Obviously, historians have overlooked their role in this seminal event.
(June 17) – The first of the summer’s two superhero films focuses on a character from the DC Universe who’s far from a household name like his counterparts Superman and Batman. Given a ring of immense power by a dying alien, hotshot pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) becomes the Green Lantern, a member of an intergalactic police force who finds himself in the middle of a war with an alien threat. The first in a proposed series of films, Warner Brothers spent north of $150 million to bring the Emerald Warrior to the screen.
Conan the Barbarian
(Aug. 19) – Newcomer Jason Momoa assumes the mantle of Robert E. Howard’s barbarian as the warrior sets out to avenge the murders of his family. Ron Perlman (Hellboy) and Stephen Lang (Avatar) lend a hand hefting the broadswords.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
(June 17) – Based on the classic children’s book, workaholic Mr. Popper (Jim Carrey) is given a penguin as a gift and soon finds himself caring for five more. He finds that this commitment is consuming his life. But it changes his outlook and he finds himself far happier than he’s ever been, though his friends and co-workers become a bit concerned by his behavior. This one looks like the first genuine family film of the summer.
Don’t be Afraid of the Dark
(Aug. 26) – A young girl goes to live with her father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) only to find there are supernatural beings in the home that want to abduct her. Produced by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), think of this as a more horrific version of Coraline.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
(July 1) – The final chapter in Michael Bay’s ear-bursting trilogy finds Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and Optimus Prime battling Shockwave, an alien entity that could spell doom for all mankind. For those looking forward to this film, the fact that it was shot in the 3-D format is good news. For the rest of us, it means that not only will our ears be assaulted but our eyes will as well.
Cowboys and Aliens
(July 27) – The title says it all in this adaptation of the graphic novel that finds an outlaw (Daniel Craig) suffering from amnesia after being abducted and knocked unconscious, only to find a piece of mysterious hardware attached to his wrist. Seems it’s the only thing that will help the citizens of Silver City when they find themselves attacked by a squadron of flying saucers. With Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde.
(July 8) – Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis star as three friends who each suffer under the reign of tyrannical bosses, so they concoct a plan that would get rid of them forever. Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Colin Farrell are the objects of their disdain in this ribald, male-centric version of 9 to 5.
(July 8) – Kevin James stars in the title role and he begins to question his sanity when he realizes the animals he cares for are talking to him. After recovering from the initial shock, he realizes they are just trying to help him win the heart of a woman he continually strikes out with. Featuring the voice talent of Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher and Don Rickles.
(Aug. 5) – Jason Bateman is a put upon single father who switches places with his womanizing best friend (Ryan Reynolds) as he tries to woo an elusive co-worker (Olivia Wilde). While the body-switching premise is overplayed, Bateman and Reynolds may be able to bring some life to it.
(June 10) – Directed by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek), this adventure plays like an extended homage to its producer, Steven Spielberg, as comparisons to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. are destined to be made. It focuses on a group of young teens who witness a horrific train wreck while making their own movie outside their Ohio hometown. Carrying Top Secret cargo for the U. S. military, something escapes from the wreckage that leads to a rash of inexplicable events.